The occupational fatality rate among commercial fishermen decreased in the United States during 1992-2008; however, commercial fishing continues to be one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States, with an average annual fatality rate of 129 deaths per 100,000 fishermen in 2008. By contrast, the average annual occupational fatality rate among all US workers during the same period was four deaths per 100,000 workers. During the 1990s, numerous safety interventions were developed for Alaska fisheries that resulted in a significant decline in the state's commercial fishing fatality rate. In 2007, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) expanded surveillance of commercial fishing fatalities to the rest of the United States. The purpose of this report is to identify the hazards and risk factors for all causes of occupational mortality in the US commercial fishing industry, and to explore how those hazards and risk factors differ among fisheries and locations. During 2000-2009, 504 commercial fishing fatalities occurred in the United States. Most (261, 52%) occurred following a vessel disaster (defined as a sinking, capsizing, or other event in which the crew was forced to abandon ship) or a fall overboard (155, 31%). Fatalities occurred in Alaska (133, 26%), Northeast (124, 25%), Gulf of Mexico (116, 23%), West Coast (83, 16%), and the Mid- and South Atlantic (41, 8%) regions. Fatalities occurred most commonly while fishing for shellfish (226, 47%), groundfish (144, 30%) and pelagic fish (97, 20%). Average annual fatality rates were calculated for selected fisheries. The Northeast multispecies groundfish fleet had the highest average annual fatality rate (600 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent [FTE] fishermen) followed by the Atlantic scallop fleet (425 deaths per 100,000 FTE fishermen) and the West Coast Dungeness crab fleet (310 deaths per 100,000 FTE fishermen). To reduce fatalities among fishermen at greatest risk, additional prevention measures tailored to specific high-risk fisheries should be considered.
Jennifer M. Lincoln, PhD, CDC/NIOSH Alaska Pacific Regional Office, 4230 University Drive, Suite 310, Anchorage, AK 99508, USA